Put a plant in every room, meditate for 12 minutes a day and eat mountains of spinach: The 20 easy ways to boost your brain power…

  • Dr Mike Dow is author of The Brain Fog Fix and an LA-based psychiatrist
  • Spiritual practice such as or praying can thicken part of the brain 
  • Meditation also enlarges this part and increases blood flow to the organ 
  • Folate can help fight depression, brain fog, dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Regular exercise is shown to be more effective than anti-depressants

Although many of us are concerned about the health of our bodies, considerably less of us think about the health of our brains.

However, shocking statistics show that now, more than ever, we need to take care of this organ.

Worldwide, 47.5 million people suffer from dementia and there are 7.7 million new cases every year, according to the World Health Organisation

In today’s society, we have an unlimited supply of unhealthy foods, electronics and legal drugs at our disposal – all of which have negatively impacted the way we think and feel.

Given that there are 7.7 new cases of dementia a year worldwide, Mike Dow, author of The Brain Fog Fix, has suggested ways that we can improve our brain health and be more alert each day

Given that there are 7.7 new cases of dementia a year worldwide, Mike Dow, author of The Brain Fog Fix, has suggested ways that we can improve our brain health and be more alert each day

So how do we fight back against these leading predators on our health?

As dementia and Alzheimer’s become leading killers in the UK, taking care of our brains is now more important than ever.

Writing for Healthista, Mike Dow, author of The Brain Fog Fix, suggests ways that we can improve our brain health and be more alert each day.

From eating more omega-3s to getting eight hours of sleep a night, Dr Dow, who is also a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, reveals exactly how we can improve our brain health…

1. AVOID MEDICATION UNLESS IT IS ESSENTIAL 

There are many people who do suffer from serious diseases such as depression and are in real need of medication.

However, many of us are over-medicated, taking over-the-counter and prescription drugs – including aspirin, antibiotics, birth control pills, asthma medications, ibuprofen, and steroids – all of which can deplete B vitamins which are essential for boosting mood and energy.

Taking medication we do not really need may increase the risk of inflammation in the brain, causing it to age more rapidly and think less clearly.

Therefore, instead of mindlessly popping pills all the time, we should first consider adjusting our lifestyles and diets, which could treat us just as well, if not better.

For example, having a diet high in omega-3s levels could reduce anxiety by 20 per cent.

2. PUT HOUSEPLANTS IN EVERY ROOM

Houseplants are an easy and effective way to purify the air in your home while also soothing your spirit.

Plants such as lady palm, dwarf date and peace lily are particularly effective at cleaning the air you breathe.

Houseplants are an easy and effective way to purify the air in the home while soothing the spirit, Dr Dow said

Houseplants are an easy and effective way to purify the air in the home while soothing the spirit, Dr Dow said

3. AVOID ELECTRONICS AT NIGHT

Although many people may consider themselves ‘night-owls’, nature intended for us to sleep at night and be awake during the day, and not doing this affects how clearly we think and how alert and positive we feel.

The pineal glands in our brains produce a hormone called melatonin, which helps regulate our sleeping and waking cycles.

When it’s dark out, the pineal gland releases more melatonin to signal that it’s time for us to wind down and go to sleep.

When light breaks outside our window, the pineal gland slows down melatonin production, signaling that it’s time to wake up.

Electronic devices emit blue light which triggers the production of a hormone that keeps us awake. Avoid using three hours before bedtime so the body gets used to knowing that it is night time

Electronic devices emit blue light which triggers the production of a hormone that keeps us awake. Avoid using three hours before bedtime so the body gets used to knowing that it is night time

However, nowadays, our constant use of technology means we are surrounded by light all of the time – we even check our phones and tablets when we are in bed.

Even the colour of the light our devices gives off affects us as they emit blue light which is particularly good at suppressing melatonin production in our brains.

This leaves our bodies no longer knowing when to produce melatonin as they no longer know when they’re supposed to be asleep.

The best thing to do is to avoid electronics in the evenings. Turn off all devices three hours before bedtime so your body can get use to knowing that it is night time.

If you can’t do this, turn your devices to the dimmest setting possible.

Remove TVs and other electronic devices from the bedroom, charge your phone in a different room to your bedroom to avoid nighttime checking and read books before bed rather than electronic versions, such as kindles.

Eat more folate to fight fight depression, brain fog, dementia and Alzheimer's. Folate is found in high levels in vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, asparagus, broccoli

Eat more folate to fight fight depression, brain fog, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Folate is found in high levels in vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, asparagus, broccoli

4.GET MORE FOLATE

Folate is a vitamin B that can help fight depression, brain fog, dementia and Alzheimer’s by enhancing neurogenesis and decreasing inflammation in the brain.

It is now even available as a prescription used to treat depression.

There are high levels of folate in vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, romaine lettuce, asparagus, broccoli as well as in legumes like lentils, kidney beans, and black-eyed beans so make sure you eat plenty of these foods.

. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS AND EXERCISE YOUR PREFRONTAL CORTEX 

We no longer have the ability to concentrate on one thing at a time – we work whilst looking at our phones and we watch TV while checking social media.

This has caused our attention span to diminish. It is important to practice doing one thing at a time and focus all our energy on it, being mindful of what we are doing while we are doing it.

Meditation or praying can exercise and thicken the prefrontal cortex, one of the most uniquely 'human' parts, associated with connection to others and long-term planning

Meditation or praying can exercise and thicken the prefrontal cortex, one of the most uniquely ‘human’ parts, associated with connection to others and long-term planning

This acts as a powerful antidote to the barrage of distractions that come at us day and night.

The prefrontal cortex part of the brain is one of the most uniquely ‘human’ parts, associated with connection to others and long-term planning (in opposition to other, more primitive parts of the brain concerned with reward and short-term pleasure).

The prefrontal cortex can be exercised and even physically thickened through spiritual practice such as or praying.

When it is active, it’s associated with good mood. When it’s not, it’s associated with depression, anxiety, and addiction.

Drink tea or red wine and eat cinnamon and raw vegetables to minimise spikes in blood sugar levels

Drink tea or red wine and eat cinnamon and raw vegetables to minimise spikes in blood sugar levels

7. MAINTAIN BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS

In order for our brains to work properly, we need to sustain our blood sugar levels to keep our brain chemistry balanced.

Increased blood sugar levels can lead to type 2 diabetes, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

The foods we eat can either produce steady, sustaining levels of blood sugar, or they can induce sugar rushes and crashes, which in turn can leave us feeling foggy, listless, anxious, and depressed.

When your blood sugar spikes too often, it wreaks the same havoc in your brain as it does in your body.

Diets rich in foods that spike our blood sugar levels not only make us fat, but are also setting us up for future risk of dementia, which has been correlated with perennially high blood-sugar levels.

To minimize your blood-sugar spikes, you should regularly include certain foods in your diet, such as cinnamon, raw or slightly cooked vegetables, vinegar, tea and red wine.

All of these have qualities that help keep your blood sugar levels in check.

8. AVOID INSULIN RESISTANCE

Our bodies need insulin to function properly as insulin delivers the blood sugar that cells use for energy.

However, when we eat too many high GI-carbohydrates, our blood sugar spikes too much and we get excess insulin which our bodies do not process properly.

This means we eventually end up storing the excess as fat and our bodies respond less and less to the constant barrage of insulin these high GI foods create, which leads to insulin resistance.

When we become insulin resistant, our body does not register the amount of energy it is getting from carbohydrates and so starts wanting more than it actually needs.

Avoid eating high GI foods including pasta and other carbohydrates, which can lead to insulin resistance - where the body does not respond to the hormone that breaks down sugar in the blood

Avoid eating high GI foods including pasta and other carbohydrates, which can lead to insulin resistance – where the body does not respond to the hormone that breaks down sugar in the blood

When we then feel like we need energy, we go for things that will provide energy fast such as processed carbohydrates which spike our blood sugar levels and will lead to an inevitable energy crash.

This means that in the long-term, our brains will lack energy which will lead to us becoming more forgetful and foggier.

9. STIMULATE THE BRAIN

Try new activities that both stimulate and help grow your brain.

Try things that encourage you to experience different feelings, for example, one day you may want to try something that gives you a sense of pleasure like reading a book, whereas another day you may try something that gives you a sense of productivity, like cleaning out your wardrobe.

Make sure you do a range of things that appeal to all the different senses – pleasure, productivity, power, pride, passion, peace and purpose.

This can really help stimulate your brain and help its functionality.

Try new activities that both stimulate and help grow your brain. This can really help stimulate your brain and help its functionality

Try new activities that both stimulate and help grow your brain. This can really help stimulate your brain and help its functionality

10. AVOID FOODS WITH A HIGH GLYCEMIC INDEX

The key to regulating your brain chemistry – and to keeping dementia at bay – is to limit your intake of carbs, or to replace the high-GI carbohydrates (such as white bread, white rice, pasta, cookies, cake, etc.) that trigger blood-sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes) with more complex carbohydrates that release slow-burning, sustainable energy for our brains.

There any many ways to replace high-GI carbohydrates with healthier alternatives – try sprouted, flourless bread instead of your favourite white bread. Instead of white rice, try mixing your veggies with quinoa or sprouted barley.

Instead of regular white pasta, try courgette or shirataki noodles.

These swaps significantly bring down the glycemic load of your food; white and even most whole-wheat breads have a glycemic index in the 70s, whereas sprouted barley has a glycemic index in the 30s.

These small changes will make you think and feel better and are also great for weight loss.

11. MEDITATE FOR 12 MINUTES DAILY
Meditation not only helps you feel at peace but also greatly improves your focus and memory.

When acclaimed neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg studied subjects with memory loss after they engaged in 12-minute daily meditations, brain scans showed that they had increased activity in the prefrontal cortex as well as increased blood flow to the brain.

Meditation not only helps you feel at peace but also greatly improves your focus and memory, Dr Dow said

Meditation not only helps you feel at peace but also greatly improves your focus and memory, Dr Dow said

And while the meditation had no religious meaning attached to it for the subjects, their brains showed decreased activity in the parietal lobe, which resulted in a feeling of being at one with the universe, nature, or God.

Subjects’ memories also improved by an average of 10 to 20 per cent, with some showing an improvement near 50 percent.

12. EAT MORE OMEGA-3S

It is important to eat healthy fats regularly in order to preserve the health of your brain.

The absolute best fats for your brain are omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent inflammation – the key to preserving cognitive function and warding off depression, stress, and anxiety.

They are considered essential, which means the body needs them but cannot make them on its own.

We can get them only through food, making it extremely important to go out of our way to incorporate them into our diets as frequently as possible.

An easy way to get more omega-3s into your diet is to eat more fish.

A general rule of thumb is to favour wild-caught over farm-raised fish as this normally contains a higher concentration of omega-3s and the lowest content of toxins.

Minimise omega-6s such as soyabean oil - found in mayonnaise - as they promote inflammation

Minimise omega-6s such as soyabean oil – found in mayonnaise – as they promote inflammation

Other good sources of omega-3s include chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and protein.

13. …AND LESS OMEGA-6S

On that note, you need to minimize your intake of omega-6s as they promote inflammation which can lead to some serious health problems.

We are meant to have a balanced intake of omega-6s to omega-3s but nowadays we consume way too many omega-6s as they are hidden in a wide range of processed foods and refined vegetable oils (such as soyabean oil which is in many store bought dressings, pasta sauces, mayonnaise, etc.)

This is causing greater inflammation of the brain which leads to depression, anxiety and brain fog.

It is important to balance our intake to feel and think better. Replace shop bought salad dressings with healthy monounsaturated fats like olive oil.

Cooking and dressing with olive oil will greatly benefit the brain and help get omega-3s into your diet easily.

14. GO ORGANIC

Organic produce does not contain any of the pesticides found in non-organic produce making it cleaner for both your body and brain.

However, this is not the only benefit as it also typically maintains higher levels of brain-healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3s than its non-organic counterparts.

Organic food typically maintains higher levels of brain-healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3s than its non-organic counterparts, according to Dr Dow

Organic food typically maintains higher levels of brain-healthy, anti-inflammatory omega-3s than its non-organic counterparts, according to Dr Dow

For example, organic milk contains 62 per cent more omega-3s and 25 per cent fewer omega-6s than conventional milk.

Therefore, buying organic can significantly help you eat cleaner which will make you think and feel better.

15. EXERCISE REGULARLY 

Exercise may be the single best mood booster out there.

It’s extraordinarily effective at boosting energy and combating both anxiety and depression.

A study that divided depressed patients into three groups; the first of which took the popular antidepressant Zoloft, the second exercised for 45 minutes with no Zoloft and the third took Zoloft and exercised found that after a ten month period, only eight per cent of the exercising group saw depressive symptoms return, compared to 38 percent of those taking Zoloft and 31 percent of those taking Zoloft and exercising.

Exercise is 'extraordinarily effective' at boosting energy and combating depression and anxiety

Exercise is ‘extraordinarily effective’ at boosting energy and combating depression and anxiety

This is one of many studies that show that exercise, when done consistently, actually outperforms antidepressants in improving mood and cognitive function.

Exercise not only helps you feel better, but helps you think better too.

It boosts levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports cell growth in the brain and promotes neurogenesis while destroying Alzheimer’s disease-causing plaques.

Stimulating BDNF through exercise is like stem-cell therapy for your brain.

It helps create new pathways as you engage in new and challenging experiences.

16 … OR AT LEAST MAKE WALKING A PRIORITY 

Commuting by car or train can be very stressful and can highly affect our moods, especially when traveling in rush hours or traffic jams.

This can lead to stress, anxiety and even depression and can cause us to have inactive lifestyles.

Incorporate walking into your everyday routine – walk to your local supermarket, restaurants or gym instead of driving.

This will promote a moving lifestyle which is vital to your health and will help you feel, think and even sleep better.

17. SOCIALISE IN REALITY 

Human beings have an innate need to feel supported, connected, and loved, making it no surprise that loneliness has been linked to depression among other things.

Although social media was supposed to make it easier to keep in touch with friends and enhance connections, a 2013 study showed that checking Facebook actually made people feel worse.

If we see someone else doing well when we are not, it can make us feel that our lives are not up to scratch and can leave us feeling depressed.

Disconnecting from social media and strengthening our real-life relationships can help us think clearer, be more productive and less self-loathing.

Instead of spending your evenings alone in front of the TV checking Facebook on your phone, meet up with a friend for drinks or a class – this will help you feel connection, support, and companionship

Instead of spending your evenings alone in front of the TV checking Facebook on your phone, meet up with a friend for drinks or a class – this will help you feel connection, support, and companionship

A review of 148 studies that included more than 300,000 people suggested that extreme loneliness may actually be deadlier than smoking and twice as deadly as obesity.

In this analysis, stronger social relationships resulted in a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival.

And another study of more than 800 older adults over the course of many years showed that being lonely can double your risk of Alzheimer’s disease in addition to leading to cognitive decline.

Instead of spending your evenings alone in front of the TV checking Facebook on your phone, meet up with a friend for drinks or a class – this will help you feel the connection, support, and companionship that is needed for thinking and feeling better.

Old-age spiritual traditions of praying, singing, meditating, and chanting may soothe anxiety even better than prescription medication, Dr Dow claims

Old-age spiritual traditions of praying, singing, meditating, and chanting may soothe anxiety even better than prescription medication, Dr Dow claims

18. FIND A SPIRITUAL PATH 

Many people have no spiritual practice at all which is unfortunate, since old-age spiritual traditions of praying, singing, meditating, and chanting may soothe anxiety even better than prescription medication.

This means that having a spiritual path can greatly improve one’s happiness.

If you are not remotely interested in any type of organised religion or spiritual service, it is important to just seek out a time, place, or outlet for your own spiritual practice.

Whether it’s a secular meditation or yoga class or a mindful hike in nature, find something that allows you to tune into the world around you.

 To find a spiritual outlet that appeals to you, try out some of the different spiritual services available – you may find something you really enjoy.

19. GET 8 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT 

Sleep boosts learning and creativity, and acts as the brain’s ‘self-cleaning’ cycle to prevent brain fog and gets rid of Alzheimer’s-causing plaques.

And since sleep affects the stress hormone cortisol, it’s also involved in weight loss.

Excess cortisol signals the brain to store belly fat, and lack of sleep also triggers a release of hormones that trigger cravings for the unhealthiest foods.

Excess cortisol can also negatively affect serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

All of these factors work together and can be thrown off by just one or two sleepless nights.

It is therefore important to make sure you get roughly eight hours of sleep a night.

Although many people may think six hours is enough, a study carried out by the University of Pennsylvania found that people who slept about six hours for multiple nights in a row had the same performance deficits as subjects who had been totally deprived of sleep for two nights.

Sleep boosts learning and creativity, and acts as the brain's 'self-cleaning' cycle to prevent brain fog and gets rid of Alzheimer's-causing plaques

Sleep boosts learning and creativity, and acts as the brain’s ‘self-cleaning’ cycle to prevent brain fog and gets rid of Alzheimer’s-causing plaques

20. DON’T GET DISTRACTED AT WORK 

Technology has an addictive pull on us.

Indeed, every time we get likes on a Facebook status or an Instagram picture, we experience a little surge of pleasure that gives the brain a tiny hit of dopamine, making us feel good and thus encouraging us to do it over and over again.

Therefore, unsurprisingly, social media can cause us to get distracted easily. This can cause us to fall behind on work meaning we end up working overtime to catch up.

This can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression as we end up having to work into the evenings and so do not get the downtime we need for our brains to function properly.

Avoid social media (block your access if necessary) and turn off your phone or ringer until you are on a break to stop distractions getting in the way of work.

Cutting back on media use will have positive effects on your brain, mood, energy levels and quality of sleep and will also help extend your attention span.

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Regret having one too many over Christmas? You should! Experts reveal the chilling effect alcohol is having on millions of us

  • Alcohol linked with 5 cancers: liver, mouth and throat, oesophageal, breast and bowel
  • Liquor weakens the immune system, leading to more chest infections
  • It ages people and exacerbates skin problems like rosacea and psoriasis
  • Re-wires the brain so people feel stressed, depressed and lousy 

‘Tis the season to be merry, and many of us take this quite literally.

With Christmas parties and celebrations with friends and family, consumption of alcohol increases by 40 per cent in December, according to addictions charity Addaction.

This not only causes tantrums, tears and office gossip, but also a spike in drink-driving related accidents and suicides.

But many of us are drinking far too much on a regular basis.

More than a quarter of all adults drink over the recommended amount of alcohol, 14 units a week for women and 21 for men, according to the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

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Experts warn drinking too much on a regular basis can have serious and irreversible effects on the body

Experts warn drinking too much on a regular basis can have serious and irreversible effects on the body

One unit is the equivalent of one 25ml single measure of whisky, a third of a pint of beer, or half a 175ml glass of wine.

And rather than men, it’s middle-class professional women aged 45 to 64 who are now drinking the most, risking serious and irreversible effects on the body, experts warn.

A glass of wine a night doesn’t seem like much, but a standard 175ml serving contains 2.3 units of alcohol, adding up to 16.1 units over the course of a week – and putting women over the safe drinking limits.

From damaging the heart muscle and re-wiring the brain to causing falls, fractures and infertility, here experts explain the sobering truth about drinking to excess…

INFERTILITY AND MISCARRIAGE

Alcohol can affect a man’s performance in the bedroom, as it causes temporary erectile dysfunction.

In the long term, it reduces testosterone levels, leading to a loss of libido and is toxic to the testes, which harms sperm while they’re being produced or stops them reaching the egg.

Excessive alcohol consumption results the testicles shrinking, leading to impotence, growth of breasts and thinning body hair.

Drinking makes women less fertile too, although it is not fully understood why, according to the British Fertility Society.

It causes imbalances in hormones that control reproduction, and even small amounts can affect a woman’s periods and reduce the chance of conceiving.

Even small amounts of alcohol can affect a woman's periods and reduce the chance of conceiving. Long-term heavy drinking can cause women to have irregular periods or stop ovulating, and even early menopause

Even small amounts of alcohol can affect a woman’s periods and reduce the chance of conceiving. Long-term heavy drinking can cause women to have irregular periods or stop ovulating, and even early menopause

One Danish study showed drinking between one and five drinks a week can reduce a women’s chances of conceiving, and 10 drinks or more decreases the likelihood of conception even further.

A 2009 study done at Harvard University of couples undergoing IVF showed that women who drank more than six units per week were 18 per cent less likely to conceive, while men were 14 per cent less likely.

Long-term heavy drinking can cause women to have irregular periods or stop ovulating, or they can stop altogether and she can have an early menopause.

Heavy drinkers who do become pregnant are more likely to have a miscarriage.

MOUTH, THROAT, OESOPHAGUS, LIVER, BOWEL AND BREAST CANCER

There is good evidence drinking alcohol increases the risk of five types of cancer, according to Professor Linda Bauld, of UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and a cancer prevention champion at Cancer Research UK

Next year, Britain’s Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies will change the guidelines on the recommended number of units of alcohol men and women can drink a week.

‘The recommendations are confidential and will be unveiled next year. But we suspect they will be lowered.

‘This is because of accumulative evidence that alcohol causes cancer.’

KEEP OFF THE BOOZE FOR TWO DAYS A WEEK, SAYS HEALTH BOSS

The new figures come as Britain’s top doctor is set to welcome in the new year with a warning not to drink more than three halves of beer at a time and still take two days off drinking a week. 

The recommended safe drinking limits for men are expected to be slashed to match the advice given to women. 

The new guidelines from Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies are expected to recommend the safe drinking limit for men be set at just two to three units – which would suggest routinely drinking just one large glass of wine with dinner or two pints of bitter after work would take men to levels over the limit.

Three units for five days is likely to breach an expected 14 unit ‘safe’ limit for the week. 

NHS advice already states drinkers should abstain for two days if they have a heavy session.

Recommended limits for women are already set at this level and are not expected to change. 

Alcohol as we know it is in the form of wine, beer and spirits but broken down into its basic form it is ethanol.

When this is broken down in the liver and a toxic substance called acetaldehyde is produced.

‘Acetaldehyde causes damage to the DNA of cells,’ Professor Bauld explains. ‘That damage is more likely to make cells cancerous.’

For example in the liver, acetaldehyde causes liver cells to grow faster than normal.

Cells that regenerate more often are more likely to pick up changes in their genes that lead to cancer.

Alcohol also reacts with other chemicals that causes cancer, such as tobacco smoke, which acts as a solvent, allowing alcohol to be absorbed more quickly, damaging the cells.

And it increases the likelihood of the disease another way, by changing levels of sex hormones, including oestrogen, in the body.

‘We see very clear links between heavy drinking and breast cancer. There is a risk for women who drink regularly full stop,’ she said.

Alcohol changes vitamin and mineral levels in the body, lowering folate levels, which leads to bowel cancer.

‘A deficiency in minerals causes changes to cells and changes the lining of the bowel,’ Professor Bauld said.

Professor Nick Sheron, head of clinical hepatology at the University of Southampton, said many people do not know about the link between alcohol and breast cancer.

The amount that a person would need to drink to increase their risk is not as large as some people might think, he said.

‘A bottle of wine a week will raise the risk of breast cancer by 10 per cent,’ he told MailOnline.

Alcohol increases the risk of throat and oesophageal cancer because it damages cells' DNA, making them more likely to incur mutations that lead to tumours. Pictured is an animation of an oesophageal tumour

Alcohol increases the risk of throat and oesophageal cancer because it damages cells’ DNA, making them more likely to incur mutations that lead to tumours. Pictured is an animation of an oesophageal tumour

LIVER 

Alcohol is like a fat and has the same amount of calories as the equivalent weight of butter, Professor Sheron said.

‘For example, a litre of vodka has the same calories as a litre of whipped cream.’

Alcohol is metabolised in the same way as cream, and as it is broken down fat is laid down in the liver cells.

Therefore everyone who drink regularly ends up with fatty liver, which stops the organ functioning properly.

Alcohol is like a fat and has the same amount of calories as the equivalent weight of butter

Alcohol is like a fat and has the same amount of calories as the equivalent weight of butter

A proportion of people develop scarring, which can eventually lead to cirrhosis, where the liver becomes irreversibly damaged, he said.

‘A third of people have the genetic background which leads to cirrhosis. The exact mechanism by which the liver becomes scarred is not known.’

Being obese also leads to cirrhosis, but the liver damage is seen in a much shorter time frame in people who drink too much.

‘But in obesity it would take 40-50 years, whereas through drinking alcohol the damage is done in a much shorter time frame,’ Professor Sheron said.

With liver disease, the damage is linear, it increases the more units a person drinks.

‘The alcoholics I see drink an average of 120 to 150 units a week,’ he continued. ‘They get cirrhosis.’

The peak age for dying of cirrhosis is 40, he added.

A minority of heavy drinkers and moderate drinkers also develop alcoholic hepatitis, where chemicals created as a result of processing alcohol in the liver injure the livers’ cells, Professor Sheron said.

This injury leads to inflammation and alcoholic hepatitis.

‘They go bright yellow,’ he said.

He stresses the idea that alcohol addiction is something that happens to ‘other people.

He said: ‘People misunderstand alcohol dependency. It’s more helpful to think of it as a spectrum.

‘At first, you can’t go on a Friday night without having a few drinks. Then, alcohol becomes more and more important. You find it hard to go on a Monday without a drink.

‘Then it becomes more important than your job, your friends, your family.’

He gave a stark warning about the damage alcohol does to the liver.

He said: ‘Liver disease is the second biggest killer of working women in terms of years of life lost. And the third biggest killer in men. 80 per cent of these deaths are alcohol-related.’

Drinking to excess causes fat to be laid down in the liver. Eventually this leads to scarring known as cirrhosis. People with cirrhosis typically only live until 40 years old

CHEST INFECTIONS

Heavy drinkers tend to get more chest infections and pneumonia as the are poorly nourished, Professor Sheron added.

This is because liquor weakens the immune system, making becoming ill more likely.

A Danish study found men who drank more than 50 drinks a week were 80 per cent more likely to be taken to hospital with pneumonia than those who indulged in up to six drinks a week, after taking into account factors like smoking and weight.

People who drink alcohol also aspirate, breathing in stomach acid, food or drink from the gastrointestinal tract into the voice box.

‘There are many rockstar fatalities due to people inhaling their own vomit,’ he said.

SKIN PROBLEMS  

We’ve all woken up after a heavy night out still wearing last night’s make up.

But forgetting to use a face wipe isn’t the reason drinking leaves us spotty and grey, the alcohol itself has a direct affect.

‘Heavy drinkers ages you. If you stop drinking you will look better,’ Professor Sheron continued.

This is because of its diuretic effect. It causes the body and, the skin in turn, to become dehydrated far more easily. This has both an instant and long-term effect on skin and hair.

Dehydration causes skin to become dry and hair to become brittle. Excessive alcohol consumption also depletes iron levels which can exacerbate a pale, lifeless complexion and hair loss.

Lymph fluid leaking from enlarged blood vessels into tissue can cause the face to become puffy.

Dehydration from by alcohol causes skin to become dry and hair to become brittle. Excessive alcohol consumption also depletes iron levels which can exacerbate a pale, lifeless complexion and hair loss

Dehydration from by alcohol causes skin to become dry and hair to become brittle. Excessive alcohol consumption also depletes iron levels which can exacerbate a pale, lifeless complexion and hair loss

Because alcohol can sap the body of Vitamin C and A, the skin also becomes less resilient to environmental causes of ageing such as the sun and pollution.

This is because lowered levels of these vitamins lead to less collagen being produced – which makes our skin look plump and youthful.

Heavy drinking also affects the skin because alcohol robs us of B Vitamins. Alcoholics often develop skin rashes that could resemble eczema from such deficiencies.

Skin is also much more prone to becoming red and blotchy. This is because alcohol dilates the blood vessels. Many people who suffer from the flushing condition rosacea find that they become red-cheeked if they drink.

Eventually, the blood vessels can burst leaving people with permanently red cheeks or the notorious ‘drinker’s nose’.

And regular drinking thins the skin, meaning blood vessels are more visible closer to the surface.

This is why chronic alcohol abuse often shows itself in dark circles under the eyes

Alcohol has been linked with depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental health problems. Around 30 per cent of suicide is alcohol-related

Alcohol has been linked with depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental health problems. Around 30 per cent of suicide is alcohol-related

BRAIN

After a few drinks, our shyness and sadness seems to slip away and we become a happier, louder, confident version of ourselves.

But few of us realise that getting into this state regularly can actually re-wire the brain, leaving us feeling even worse than before.

Regular drinking has been linked with depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental health problems.

Almost a third of suicide is alcohol-related.

And research by NHS Scotland shows more than half of people who ended up in hospital because they had deliberately injured themselves said they had drunk alcohol immediately before or while doing it.

Some 27 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women gave alcohol as the reason for self-harming.

Alcohol affects every system of the body and can change the brain irreversibly, according to Anne Lingford-Hughes, a Professor of Addiction Biology at Imperial College London.

It effects the brain by changing neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transmit signals throughout the body that cause processes in the body, behaviours and emotions.

Alcohol affects the glutamate and GABA neurotransmitters, Professor Lingford-Hughes said.

Glutamate increases brain activity and boosts energy. When suppressed, the brain’s motorways become slower.

Alcohol can re-wire the brain, making people feel stressed, depressed and lousy, one expert said (file photo)

Alcohol can re-wire the brain, making people feel stressed, depressed and lousy, one expert said (file photo)

Meanwhile, it increases production of GABA, the neurotransmitter associated with lowering anxiety, feeling calm and going to sleep.

This means thought, speech and movements will be slowed down as different parts of the brain cannot co-ordinate, which is why we slur our words, fail to pick up on social signals, can’t make decisions and fall over chairs

Professor Lingford-Hughes said: ‘If someone has a seizure or is epileptic – it’s the ying and yang, the GABA and the glutamate, not working together in the brain.

‘It’s the same with alcohol. Bits of your brain won’t work well together. The brain’s motorways are slowed.’

‘When you make a decision you integrate information about the risks, memory, integrated process the brain. Alcohol slows down the communication

Some 27 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women gave alcohol as the reason for self-harming

Some 27 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women gave alcohol as the reason for self-harming

Cleverly, while slowing down the glutamate/GABA system, alcohol also affects the mew/kappa system.

The brain’s mew system increases the amount of dopamine in the organ.

Dopamine is the ‘pleasure’ hormone associated with reward, and is responsible for the euphoric feeling.

A rush of dopamine is released after being promoted, taking drugs like cocaine, eating sugar and falling in love.

But it is also linked to addiction, as the person keeps drinking more and more in order to feel the same dopamine release as the body becomes tolerant.

However, soon after alcohol causes the release dopamine – the brain’s Kappa system kicks in, Professor Lingford-Hughes said.

‘The Kappa system is not nice, it’s the “nasty system”’, she said.

‘It’s there to stop dopamine being released and reduce pleasure.

‘That may drive during alcohol withdrawal- people feel stressed.’

Drinking regularly changes dynamic between the mew and kappa systems, and the adverse system becomes dominant, she warned.

This leaves people feeling stressed, depressed and feeling lousy. 

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE AND HEART PROBLEMS

Alcohol is a toxin and is directly toxic to the heart muscle cells, Dr Klaus Witte, a cardiologist at Leeds General Infirmary told MailOnline.

If a person drinks their heart cells die and sometimes fibrous tissue forms in its place which cannot contract as well.

They develop alcohol-related cardio myopathy, where the heart muscle becomes weak and thin and is unable to pump blood around the body, depriving tissues of oxygen.

This results in shortness of breath, tiredness, an irregular heartbeat and swelling in the legs and feet.

In severe cases, it can lead to heart failure.

Dr Witte continued: ‘The heart has an amazing ability to repair itself, but if you regularly drink, you will damage your heart.’

How much a person needs to drink and on what basis depends on their genetics, on how sensitive their body is to ethanol.

‘The heart has an amazing ability to repair itself, but if you regularly drink, you will damage your heart,’ said Dr Klaus Witte. This is because alcohol is directly poisonous to heart cells

But across populations, drinking more than 14 units a week for women and 21 units for men will cause damage to heart cells.

There’s also such a thing as ‘holiday heart syndrome’ – where a person goes on holiday and binge drinks and comes back with atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

This can happen even to people who are extremely fit, Dr Witte said.

He said: ‘When I was working in Wales I saw many Welsh rugby players who drank 16 pints a night and then they’d wake up with atrial fibrillation.

‘It’s not very common – if everyone who went to Ibiza came back with this problem they wouldn’t do it – but it does happen.’

 And the end result is the same between binge drinking and steady drinking, he said.

Binge drinking increases the likelihood of high blood pressure, as the blood vessels stiffen, causing the pressure inside the veins and arteries to rise.

It also triggers the release of certain stress hormones that constrict the blood vessels.

Having high blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.

Drinking also affects people’s sleep, which further raises blood pressure.

Dr Witte said: ‘Alcohol stops you sleeping properly, your more likely to snore. This obstruction or lack of ventilation, causes stress hormones to be released.

They develop alcohol-related cardio myopathy, where the heart muscle becomes weak and thin and is unable to pump blood around the body, depriving tissues of oxygen. This results in shortness of breath, tiredness, an irregular heartbeat and swelling in the legs and feet.

They develop alcohol-related cardio myopathy, where the heart muscle becomes weak and thin and is unable to pump blood around the body, depriving tissues of oxygen. This results in shortness of breath, tiredness, an irregular heartbeat and swelling in the legs and feet.

‘Levels of adrenaline and noradrenalin are higher. They are bad for the heart. They cause the heart to pump faster, blood supply to be greater, stimulating high blood pressure.’

‘Alcohol may blunt the sleep associated drop in blood pressure, so you don’t get the night time rest. The arteries don’t get their rest.’

And people who are out drinking tend to have a more unhealthy lifestyle generally, Dr Witte said.

A bottle of wine a week will raise the risk of breast cancer by 10 per cent
Professor Nick Sheron, of the University of Southampton

Drinking can lead to weight gain and obesity, which puts further strain on the heart.

Dr Witte said: ‘Being hungover and drinking loads of coffee is a stimulant too, you’re trying to compensate for tiredness. You’re hitting your heart on all fronts.’

He conceded there are studies which show a glass of red wine a day can protect the heart.

However, he said this is thought to be due to ingredient in the wine called flavonoids.

These flavonoids can be found in teas, which would offer protection without the risks of drinking a substance that is toxic to heart cells, he said.

KIDNEY DISEASE

Heavy drinking on a regular basis has been found to double the risk of kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

The kidneys filter toxins and waste products from the blood, but alcohol changes the kidneys so they are less able to carry out this function.

The organs also keep the right amount of water in the body by regulating levels of salts in the blood and its pH.

Drinking also leads to high blood pressure, which is a common cause of kidney disease. More than two drinks a day can increase your chance of having high blood pressure

Drinking also leads to high blood pressure, which is a common cause of kidney disease. More than two drinks a day can increase your chance of having high blood pressure

Alcohol dehydrates the body, and the lack of water can effect how many of the body’s organs work.

Drinking also leads to high blood pressure, which is a common cause of kidney disease.

More than two drinks a day increases the chance of having high blood pressure.

Binge drinking can sometimes cause a sudden drop in kidney function known as ‘acute kidney injury’, as it causes a person’s blood alcohol levels to rocket.

 When this happens, a person needs dialysis (where they are connected to a machine which filters their blood) – until their kidney function returns to normal.

This usually goes away in time, but in some cases, it can lead to lasting damage.

INFLAMMATION OF THE PANCREAS

The pancreas, a tadpole shaped organ found behind the stomach, sends digestive enzymes to the small intestine to metabolize food.

Drinking regularly increases the likelihood of brittle bones, known medically as osteoporosis, which makes people more likely to suffer fractures

Drinking regularly increases the likelihood of brittle bones, known medically as osteoporosis, which makes people more likely to suffer fractures

But alcohol disrupts this process, causing the organ to secrete its juices internally.

These substances, as well as acetaldehyde, which is made when alcohol is metabolised, damages the pancreas.

The build up of enzymes will cause inflammation, as well as swelling of tissues and blood vessels.

Symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fast heartbeat and fever.

A person can have a sudden attack (acute pancreatitis) or can suffer from chronic pancreatitis, where drinking slowly breaks down the organ, leading to diabetes and death.

WEAK BONES 

Drinking regularly increases the likelihood of brittle bones, known medically as osteoporosis, as it causes them to become thin and weak, according to Sarah Leyland, senior and helpline manager at the National Osteoporosis Society.

This means people are more likely to break their bones, or their fractures won’t heal as well.

‘There is a direct affect that alcohol has on bone remodelling,’ she told MailOnline.

In the body, there is a normal cycle of bones being built and being broken down and absorbed.

Alcohol upsets this balance by suppressing the bone building cells, called osteoblasts.

‘It means you’re getting less bone tissue. They get finer and thinner, lacking an outer shell.

‘This happens anyway due to old age, but alcohol causes it too.’

‘Fractures are the end point of osteoporosis, your bones break and don’t heal as well.’

She added that alcohol intake is one of the main factors doctors consider when they are assessing a person’s risk of their bones fracturing.

People who drink alcohol also tend to be malnourished, which can contribute to brittle, weak bones.

Ms Leyland added: ‘In older people who are at risk of falling, alcohol can be enjoyable but it makes you unsteady, makes you get up in the night.’

To prevent osteoporosis, she advises eating a well balanced and calcium rich diet, with plenty of vitamin D and exercise.

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